“I’m sure they smell blood in the water,” Eagles coach Mike Elder said. “But like I tell our guys, and I want to make this clear: I’m not asking for anyone to feel sorry for us, and no one’s going to. We’re Avon and we’ve been in the playoffs for 10 straight years and we’re good, so we’re not going to feel sorry for ourselves, either. Next week we’ve just got to try and find a way.”
The Eagles (12-0) entered the game against fourth-seeded Benedictine without notable starters. Quarterback Danny Zeh was hurt in the previous game, and two starting linemen in Joe Svec and Tommy Lorincz were out as well. Devon Hunter had spent weeks filling in for leading rusher Nick Perusek, who was lost for the year at midseason. In the third quarter against the Bengals (10-2), backup quarterback Niko Pappas left with an undisclosed injury, forcing sophomore Chase Myers to take his spot.
“It’s almost like a sick joke (with the injuries),” Elder said. “The toughness of our kids is incredible.”
Hunter was a reliable weapon against an increasingly-weary Bengals defense.
The junior busted loose for 206 yards and a career-high five touchdowns (1 yard, 24, 12, 5, 4) on 31 carries, pacing an offense that was able to string together six lengthy scoring drives of eight plays or more. The Bengals defense couldn’t stop the one-two punch of speed and power that Hunter and the run-first Pappas brought to the field.
Pappas ran for 172 yards and two scores while also completing 6-of-15 passes for 116 yards before leaving the game. Myers, whose only starting experience came at the junior varsity level, filled in with 34 yards on 11 carries and a key 23-yard screen pass to Hunter in the fourth that kept a scoring drive alive.
Hunter’s 4-yard touchdown run capped that drive with 5:56 left to play and provided the final 49-28 margin. Up 28-14 at halftime, the Eagles got third-quarter rushing scores from Pappas (8 yards) and Hunter (5) to help maintain the two-score cushion.
“It’s been unbelievable,” Myers said. “No one knows who’s going to get called next, but everyone’s been ready and we’ve just come together as a team.”
Avon finished with 435 rushing yards, weakening the Benedictine defense while keeping its dangerous offense off the field for long stretches.
Benedictine’s Marvin Conkle returned the game’s opening kickoff 95 yards for a touchdown to give the Bengals a quick 7-0. The Eagles responded with a 16-play drive that closed with a Hunter 1-yard run. Avon’s defense forced a Bengals punt and followed with Hunter’s twisting 24-yard scamper to go up 14-7 with 2:48 left in the first quarter.
They didn’t trail again.
Bengals running back Jalen Edwards, who entered the game with nearly 1,800 yards rushing and 24 touchdowns, was held to 80 on 16 carries by the Eagles defense. Avon also held quarterback Ronnie Schultz to 146 yards and two touchdowns after a 361-yard performance in the previous game.
“We’ve seen some teams that are more talented and bigger than us, so you worried about (going down 7-0 early),” Elder said. “The minute I saw we were able to slow down their running game I knew we had a chance. Our kids will never quit.”
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